Moreno, pilot of the ...
Moreno, pilot of the #20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard, had a fast lap of 26.981 seconds (206.545 mph) in the morning practice session putting him 21st on the speed chart. In the afternoon session the Visteon/Patrick Racing team continued to work on the setup and made progress. Moreno improved his time in the afternoon over the morning running a quick lap of 26.826 seconds (207.739) putting him 19th on the afternoon speed chart. However, when times from both sessions were combined he remained in 21st place on the overall combined practice report. Despite struggling somewhat as the Visteon/Patrick Racing worked diligently in search of the proper balance for the car, Moreno remained upbeat and expressed confidence that the team would improve before tomorrow's qualifying
"The Visteon/Patrick Racing team started with the same car this morning as we had last year. Unfortunately, it wasn't as fast as we had anticipated," Moreno said. "So we made some changes to chase some more speed in the afternoon. Once we started to get some speed we began to fine-tune the Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard. I think we have a good baseline to work from and a good car for the race. We still need to find some more speed. We are too slow compared to the other guys, but we have a good foundation to work from and a good direction to go forward. I am confident that we will find the additional speed we need before qualifying tomorrow," Moreno noted.
Moreno returns to Japan hoping to continue the good fortune he has experienced over the years. His first Formula One start (1987) and podium (1990) came in Japan and last year, in his second race at Motegi, he started fourth and finished third (he started 22nd and finished 26th in his only other start at Motegi in 1998). Moreno, who has scored points in two of the first three races this year, 11th at Long Beach and 12th in Nazareth, is 16th in the championship standings with three points. He is coming off the strongest oval season of his career, last year, and is looking to add to an impressive oval record that has seen him score points in 12 of his last 15 oval races. In nine ovals races in 2000 he had seven finishes in the top-10 with five top-five performances including four podium showings and scored the most points of any active driver. Moreno also scored the two best oval performances, and best 500-mile finish, of career last year placing second at Homestead and Fontana. He has finished in the top-10 in 18 of his last 36 starts and in the points 24 times.
Vasser, in the #40 Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard, had a fast time of 26.945 seconds (206.821 mph) in the morning practice session putting him 20th on the speed charts. In the afternoon, unfortunately, he was unable to improve his time, turning a fast lap of 27.130 seconds (205.411 mph) putting him 25th on the afternoon speed chart and dropping him to 26th on the combined practice report.
The good news was, despite the disappointing afternoon practice session, Vasser and his Patrick Racing crew were able to get a handle on a good setup toward the end of the session and establish a solid foundation to work from in tomorrow morning's practice prior to qualifying.
"Obviously I am disappointed," Vasser said. "The Patrick Racing team expected to be quicker here based on past history. The good news is we are definitely moving in the right direction and have a good idea of what to do," Vasser concluded.
Vasser, who is in his inaugural season behind the wheel of the #40 Patrick Racing Toyota Reynard, is racing at Twin Ring Motegi for the fourth time. He has had some success in Japan having started in the top-three two out of three years including sitting on the pole in 1998 (he started third last year and 12th in 1999). Vasser has finished in the points twice at Motegi placing seventh in 1998 and 12th in 1999. The 35-year-old native of California has started the 2001 FedEx Championship Series season strong. He has finished in the top-six in all three races this year placing sixth at Mexico, fifth in Long Beach and fourth in Nazareth. Vasser is tied for third in the FedEx Championship Series standings with 30 points and is one of six drivers to have completed every lap and mile run so far this year. In 150 CART career starts Vasser has 89 top-10 finishes including 26 podium showings, nine victories and seven poles. He has scored points in 43 of his 58 (32 of last 39) oval races. Vasser has 40 top-10 finishes with 21 top-five showings including 12 podiums and five wins on ovals. He is working on a streak that seen him finish 88 of his last 106 races placing in the points 84 times.
Despite today's disappointing times, Patrick Racing is extremely confident heading in tomorrow's qualifying and Saturday's race, and for good reason. Patrick Racing has been dominant on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval since the inaugural race in 1998. In the three previous races held on the 1.5-mile Motegi oval Patrick Racing cars have finished in the top-10 four times including two victories (Adrian Fernandez, 1998 and 1999). Additionally, Roberto Moreno piloted the #20 Visteon/Patrick Racing entry to a podium showing last year while PJ Jones drove the Visteon car to a ninth place finish in 1999. In six starts, two per year, Patrick Racing has finished in the points five times (Scott Pruett finished 12th in 1998).
The team's overall success on ovals since 1995 is also a cause for confidence. Since Patrick Racing's return to CART competition in 1995 there have been 47ovals races. Patrick Racing cars have started 81 times. They have 49 top-10 finishes, 29 top-five showings, five victories (Scott Pruett - Michigan - '95; Adrian Fernandez - Japan - '98; Fernandez - Japan - '99; Fernandez - Fontana - '99; and Fernandez - Rio - '00) and four poles (Raul Boesel - St. Louis - '97; Pruett - Michigan - '97; Fernandez - Michigan - '98; and Pruett - Fontana - '98).
There will be a split practice session tomorrow morning. Group one will practice from 9:30 - 10:15 am with the second group running from 10:30 - 11:15 am. Groups are determined by the point standings so Patrick Racing will have one car in each session. Qualifying for the Firestone Firehawk 500 will begin at 1:30 (local time. The race will be run on Saturday, May 19 at 12:30 p.m. (local time) and will be televised at 12:00 am (ET) on ESPN.